|Re-inventing Hildegard - Sustainable Economy and Monastic Reform in Benedictine Monasteries|
|During the last years monasteries and monastic communities have started to conquer to an increasing extent a share in the market of „spiritual wellness“, organic agriculture and sustainable economy. The unmanageable quantity of products promoted under the name of the Benedictine nun Hildegard of Bingen (d. 1179) may serve as one of many examples.
An interdisciplinary research project hosted by the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Vienna) investigates the recent performance and the future potential of six Benedictine monasteries in Austria and Southern Germany in this field.
The analysis focuses on how the single monasteries realize sustainability in their social and economic enviroment, but also on how the monastic communities react to this kind of challenge, and on how the concept of sustainability itself is founded in their relgious and spiritual self-consciousness.
Whereas the mentioned analysis covers the past decades, the present and the near future, there is also a sub-section of the project that deals with the historical dimension of monastic economy in the light of monastic spirituality. The main question is: Did economic and agricultural reorganisation go hand in hand with spiritual reform? And if: (How) can this be shown on an empirical basis? In other words: is there a monastic tradition of sustainable economy?
The paper will provide some first research results and methodological considerations. The (1000-years’) histories of the six monasteries – Altenburg, Kremsmünster, Münsterschwarzach, Plankstetten, St. Paul/Lavanttal, Seitenstetten – are presented according to a set of empirical categories: number of monks, number of issued charters, total of revenues and debts, measures of economic reorganisation, building activities (and damages), and the active implementation of monastic reform movements. All these factors are visualized by graphs that display the relation between the single elements, and hence allow assertions about the connection between economic and spiritual sphere.
Athough research is still in progress, one aspect seems to become evident. Even in phases in which reform activities in both spheres coincided, it is difficult to state any direct dependence or determination. The agricultural and general economic dimension of a monastery may be linked to aspects of monastic life (such as the ethics of good administration, or the consumption of meat), but the social and political context is mainly that of the pre-modern noble manorial system of Austria and Southern Germany. In this sense, the re-invention of Hildegard mirrors the agenda of today’s monastic culture; it still remains an invention, as does the idea of a particularly „sustainable“ pre-modern monastic economy.
The paper will be given by Nadine Tauchner, who is currently writing her MA thesis on the topic (Economic and Social History, University of Vienna), and by Thomas Wallnig, supervisor of the historical sub-project, Thomas Wallnig, who has been working on the early modern intellectual history of Austrian monasteries for several years (for CV and publications see: www.univie.ac.at/monastische_aufklaerung).|